Lately I have been trying to clue up the last of the research for my doctorate. It has been increasingly frustrating. My favourite program for most things scientific is MATLAB. This little gem does 1to ND graphics, major statisitical calculations, humumgous and nasty linear algebra calculations at the drop of a matrix, time series analysis and spectral analysis, and the best aspect is that much of the language looks like math. I’ve even run numerical models, saved the results, analysed the data, plotted up graphs and movies of the results, and all this within MATLAB. It even has interfaces to allow you to mix MATLAB programs with C, Fortran 90, etc. Finally, it has a nice way to publish the results in HTML or PDF (which I’ve heard about but haven’t tried).
It is my favourite program of all time for research. However, the power and flexibility requires a good platform to run it.
Today I received my new PC to finish my research with. The previous incarnation was a SunBlade 150 Workstation with a nice 21″ CRT. It was fine for most purposes, but the implementation of MATLAB in the Oceanography, combined with the age of the previous machine (4+ years), left many, many things to be desired.
- First, it is no longer available.
- Second, it was a 550 MHz UltraSPARC III versus an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13GHz with 2Mb cache, which is basically 2 processors, each running 4 times as fast as the Sun! Also, the Sun chip was 24-bit, while the Dual Core chip is two 32-bit processors on the same chip.
- The Sun was upgraded to 512 Mb RAM two years ago. The current machine has 2GB DDR-2 RAM running at 533MHz.
- The 21″ CRT, which is the size of a half-decent TV, has been replaced by a 19″ LCD neovo screen. The footprint difference
- The old machine had primitive internet and email capabilities. My new machine had Firefox installed, and I just ported my profile from my home machine (running a Windows XP OS) to my new machine (running a Linux Red Hat system) with no glitches or problems so far. For my email, I went from Pine to Thunderbird. Thunderbird seems nice, and I like the built-in bayesian filter. I’m still learning about some idiosyncrasies of folder naming, but it is still orders of magnitude above pine.
- I can now run two MATLAB sessions at full speed without either crashing. While neither session will be as fast as on my 2.8 GHz home machine, it doesn’t matter much. Mostly I am analysing model data and generating movies, figures, and graphs of the results. The old machine used to really have problems with loading ASCII and reformatting data, and with graphics of any decent size. Sometimes I’d SCP it home, and do it there. Even with transfer rates of less than 100 Kb/s, it was often faster. This afternoon I did a job that normally takes 2-3 minutes in 15 seconds.
- A real annoyance was how the MATLAB Java-based programs interfaced with the Solaris Unix system of the Sunblade. Java was an apt description; primitive, dark, strong, mouldy, full of fungus, and belonging in the deepest jungles of Southeast Asia. It was glitchy, full of gremlins, and erratic. Lately I couldn’t print figures, and sometimes MATLAB would blow away just because I plotted a figure. The current incarnation is working fine.
- Finally, there is the licensing. There are only a fixed number of processes allowed, and the MATLAB for Windows on my home machine has to talk to the server at Dal before I can run the program! If the system is down at Dal, I’m out of luck.
With this new system, I have a real hope of making enough progress to make me and my supervisors happy. It makes it enjoyable to work again.
BTW, I wrote this entry on the new machine, called Odin, using Performancing on Firefox. Everything seems to work, and first thing tomorrow I’m going to zoom through about 20 figures anf 5 simulations for my thesis.
ABTW, I think my home machine will be Hugin (since I think up creative ideas away from the workplace), and the Environment Canada PC will be called Munin (where I archive some older data and records).
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